If you've ever considered following a diet make sure you have all the facts first. What exactly is a raw food diet? Tanya Maher gives her take on what a raw food diet is, and our nutritionist assesses whether it's actually as healthy as it seems...
Tanya Maher is a holistic health coach and chef, and co-founder of Tanya’s, a raw food restaurant in London. Here, she explains what counts as 'raw food', why she believes they are so good for your body, and what kind of benefits you might expect from adding them to your diet.
Tanya says: 'Raw food isn’t just about eating more salad – although that can never hurt. In this context, it means eating uncooked foods. Raw food is anything that has not been refined, canned or chemically processed, and has not been heated above 48C.'
What’s the problem with cooking food?
I believe we need enzymes for every bodily function; from breathing to walking to digesting food. Our bodies have their own store of enzymes, but we also rely on the enzymes we get from our food. Applying heat (specifically above 48C) destroys some of the natural enzymes in food, so the body overworks itself by having to produce more of its own enzymes, exhausting its energy. Also, if you cook your food above 57C, it destroys heat-sensitive nutrients – for example, tomatoes lose about 10% of their vitamin C content when cooked for just two minutes.
What are the health benefits?
As a holistic health coach, I have witnessed countless benefits among my clients and, personally, I’ve found that I have more energy and focus. In addition, my acne cleared, and I have stronger hair and nails. You don’t have to eat 100% raw either. Include uncooked veg and greens with your meals, and opt for unprocessed, whole foods wherever possible.
Can sweet foods be eaten raw too?
My raw diet was conditional; I will eat vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and grains – but I will not give up my daily bar of chocolate! As I began to feel healthier, commercial chocolate, with its refined sugars, additives and preservatives, didn’t cut it for me, so I looked for better alternatives and developed some of my own sweet recipes.
But is it good for you?
Kerry Torrens, our nutritionist, gives her view on whether the health promises live up to the hype:
- Eating raw fruit and veg does help you to achieve your five-a-day, and packs your diet with vitamins, minerals and fibre.
- While heating fruit and veg can cause the loss of some heat-sensitive nutrients, like vitamin C, other nutrients actually benefit from cooking. For example, cooking carrots and tomatoes makes it easier for our bodies to benefit from their protective antioxidants, including beta-carotene (which we convert to vitamin A), and lycopene.
- There's no scientific evidence to support the view that cooked food places a greater demand on our body's enzyme resources. We produce the enzymes we need to digest food and re-absorb and secrete those enzymes. So, for a normal, healthy, individual with a balanced diet the act of digesting cooked food is unlikely to lead to an enzyme deficiency or place our bodies under undue stress.
- Eating cooked food can actually make the job of digestion easier. That's because cooked foods are easier to mechanically break down through the action of chewing, and heating food like vegetables breaks down their cell walls, which makes digestion in the gut easier. Starches and proteins especially benefit from cooking and change to a form which is easier for us to manage.
- The challenge for anyone on a raw food diet is getting enough protein, vitamin B12 and iron, as these nutrients are typically found in foods most of us prefer to cook – meat, fish, eggs and grains.
- Cooking food has a major advantage – it protects us from foodborne pathogens.
- Tanya's desserts are high in fat as ingredients like coconut, nuts and avocado are naturally rich in fat, which helps to achieve a creamy, indulgent texture. Coconut is rich in saturated fat, although much of this is in the form of medium-chain triglycerides, which some believe to have health benefits. The cashews and avocado are rich in monounsaturated fats, which are heart-friendly. Tanya has chosen to sweeten her treat recipes with agave nectar and maple syrup. These syrups are classed as 'free' sugars, the type we are advised to cut back on, so be sure to use sparingly and enjoy these recipes as occasional treats only.
- Pregnant women, the elderly and the very young, as well as anyone with a chronic illness, should check with their GP before going on a raw food diet.
Tanya's raw food recipes
Although it tastes creamy and indulgent, this American classic is entirely dairy-free. The date, walnut and cacao crust is filled with a smooth cashew nut, lime and avocado filling and naturally sweetened with agave nectar. A perfect dessert to satisfy any sweet cravings without refined sugar - and it's pretty enough to impress at a dinner party, too.
The ultimate no-bake traybake, these raw bites are every bit as moreish as millionaire's shortbread. Whip up a batch and share them round - you won't believe they're made entirely from wholesome ingredients like cashews, coconut and cacao powder.
Do you have experiences of following a raw food diet, or do you think it's just another fad? Let us know in the comments below...
This page was last reviewed on 6th November 2018 by Kerry Torrens.
Kerry Torrens is a qualified Nutritionist (MBANT) with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.
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